I myself am victim to Tulum’s charm! After first visiting Tulum in 2018, and after living for two years in the Riviera Nayarit on Mexico’s west coast, we decided to officially move to Tulum whenever we needed to come back to Mexico this year. Now we have been living in Tulum for nearly 3 months and we have been able to discover it in a new light. There’s definitely a lot to love about Tulum. But living here, you definitely get to see its underbelly, so to speak. Tulum’s infrastructure and fragile eco-system are worsening by the minute, with troves of tourists arriving nearly every day.
There are many efforts being made to make Tulum a sustainable destination to visit, but there’s LOTS of work to do. That said, when you visit Tulum please be conscientious of your impact on the local environment and on the community. Stay in eco-responsible hotels like Habitas, Ahau, and Papaya Playa Project and not hotels that have been known to dump their waste into the mangroves like Amansala. Buy wisely, keeping in mind that your “purchasing power” goes a long way.
Here’s my ever-growing bucket list for what to do and see in Tulum, Mexico!
Note: I will be constantly updating this list to share with you all the best things to do in Tulum that we discover during our time here!
9 Popular & Off-Beat Things to Do in Tulum
1. Discover the Ancient Tulum Ruins
Tulum Ruins entrance fee: ~$70 pesos
The famous Tulum ruins are one of the coolest – if not most beautiful – ancient Mayan cities thanks to its unique position overlooking the vast and vivid Caribbean sea. Visiting is a must-do activity in Tulum! The best time to visit the Tulum ruins is early in the morning, long before the hoards of tour buses and hipsters on bikes arrive. Going later in the day is an option too, but chances are it’ll be doubly as busy and much hotter. The Tulum Ruins site is vast and expansive, so it’ll take up a good portion of the morning and leave you hungry for lunch.
While at Tulum Ruins enjoy the palm trees, warm breeze, interesting plaques describing the ruins, and of course the iguanas that are basking in the sunshine. There is also the Tulum Ruins beach which you can climb down the stairs to visit. It is crazy to think that the Mayas could see Spanish fleets floating in the distance from their city on the edge of the Caribbean.
2. Rent a Bike & Cruise Tulum’s Hotel Zone
Cost to rent a bike in Tulum: $100-200 pesos per day
Renting a bike not only doubles as one of the most budget-friendly things to do in Tulum, but it also is one of the best ways to explore downtown Tulum and the Hotel Zone (you can also bike to the Tulum Ruins).
Tulum can be hellish due to all the tourists arriving in rental cars and tour buses. And Tulum just isn’t built to handle all the demand tourists are bringing every year. Hence, it gets very busy and crowded (especially in the high season – over the Christmas holidays). Not only does renting a bike help you beat the crowds, but it’s also just fun and gives you the flexibility to stop wherever and shop or to just explore around.
Parking our bikes at Tulum’s public beaches
Biking to Tulum’s Hotel Zone
Distance from Tulum pueblo: 5-6 km (3-4 mi) to reach the start of the Zona Hotelera
While Tulum is pedestrian-friendly, especially in town, it’s not going to get you very far. Biking in Tulum Pueblo is easy and straight-forward with the town’s bike path. You’ll have to be careful though because many tourists don’t realize they’re walking in the bike lane.
If you are feeling up to the task, you can bike all the way from Tulum Town to the Hotel Zone along the beach. There is a bike-friendly lane that goes down the Coba road toward the beach. Also watch out for people, potholes, and cars that are entering/exiting onto the side streets. It takes about 20 minutes by bike to reach the start of the Hotel Zone from town.
If you want to bike all the way down the Hotel Zone, eventually reaching the more popular Instagram spots, then it will take more like 35-45 minutes. It is pretty far. In one day, there and back, we clocked 18 km of biking (11 miles or so).
Even though the Hotel Zone is far-ish from town by bike, I still feel like it’s one of the best things to do in Tulum if want to be outside. It’s also way more freeing to meander the Hotel Zone by bike than by car. Parking for cars is legit a nightmare on the Hotel Zone. So if you can do a bit of biking and save yourself the time (and trouble), then bike there instead! Just be prepared to be tired at the end of the day!
3. Jump in Cenotes (One of the Best Things to Do in Tulum!)
Cenotes are what drew me to visit the Yucatan Peninsula. Cenotes are just awesome! I even wrote about my top 5 favorite cenotes and one of the completely-enclosed cenotes in Tulum made the list. Basically, Tulum and cenotes are inseparable. And they’ve made quite a splash over the years, largely thanks to Instagram. Tulum is built on top of cenotes and on top of one of the largest flooded cavern systems – Dos Ojos – known better for being one of the most visited cenotes in Tulum.
The sheer amount of tourists visiting Tulum means that the cenotes here get overcrowded really quickly. If you plan to visit a cenote, there are a few things you should know:
- It’s forbidden to wear any sunscreen (even biodegradable), lotions, makeup, etc., in the cenotes.
- Most cenotes require you to rinse off before entering (and it’s cold).
- Depending on where you go, there may be a $150-200 peso camera fee charge (for DSLRs, drones, GoPros). Taking pictures with your phone is free.
- The best time to go is as soon as it opens (especially for photographers). If you don’t care, you can go later in the morning or 1-2 hours before it closes.
- Many cenotes close between 4-6 PM, so plan your day accordingly.
Awesome cenotes to discover in Tulum:
- Gran Cenote: The most popular cenote in Tulum.
- Dos Ojos: Largest cave system; great for snorkeling/diving.
- Carwash: Open-air, circular cenote.
- Cenote Azul: Beautiful open-air cenote with a ledge for jumping.
- Cenotes Choo-Ha & Multun-Ha: Underground cave cenotes near the Coba ruins outside of Tulum.
- Cenote Calavera: One big jumping hole with a ladder and swing and two daring small jumping holes (hence the name “Skull Cenote”).
- Cenote Zacil-Ha: Shallow and turquoise open-air cenote with rest areas.
- Cenotes Cristal y Escondido: Two open-air cenotes great for jumping, snorkeling, and cavern diving (Escondido).
Every Tulum cenote will have a varying entrance fee, but prices range from $100 – $300 pesos. Sometimes it’s more (which is kinda crazy). I love a good local cenote that only costs me $50 and isn’t littered with people. But those are becoming harder to find around the Tulum area. You’ll have to travel inland or throughout the Peninsula to discover some of the more local cenote gems.
CENOTE REMINDER: Do not use sunscreen, insect repellant, beauty creams, etc., when entering cenotes. All the products we smother on ourselves are ruining the fresh water from the ground, leaving residue on top of the cenote water which pollutes the water and produces algae blooms. Please also pack out all trash that you pack in.
4. Stroll, Shop, & Eat in Tulum Pueblo
@ Matcha Mama (Tulum Pueblo location)
When you first arrive in Tulum, you’ll find yourself in Tulum’s pueblo or town area. The town center is not in the same area as the Zona Hotelera, which can be confusing on your first visit. But don’t discount the Tulum Pueblo just yet!
It has lots to offer in terms of delicious dining experiences – both international and local. Not only that, Tulum Town is a better budget-friendly area to shop compared to the Zona Hotelera. (Although, nothing in Tulum is extremely cheap compared to other parts of Mexico!).
There are plenty of spots in Tulum Town that retain their local vibes – despite its enormous growth in recent years. So a stroll around is a must things to do in Tulum. On that note, I actually prefer Tulum’s local scene in the pueblo MUCH more than the NYC fashion-designer boho vibes along the coast. That’s why strolling around and getting a feel for the town is in my opinion one of the best things to do in Tulum.
If you’re in town, especially explore the Main Ave and Calle Centauro Sur, plus the streets running parallel and perpendicular. There are tons of hidden restaurants, shops, and vegan cafes to discover here.
5. Lounge on Tulum’s Beaches
Public beach in Tulum
If you tire from swimming in cenotes or exploring Mayan ruins, the beautiful Caribbean shoreline is but a few minutes away. Scores of smaller, less popular beaches can be found along the Riviera Maya – with some just a skip and a jump away from Tulum’s more popular beach scenes.
In the Zona Hotelera alone, pockets of the beach are accessible to the public while most of them belong to the resorts. Nonetheless, we were able to park and walk along a portion of the beach where there were much fewer people compared to other beaches nearby.
Obviously, going to the beach is one of the best free things to do in Tulum (that is unless you pay for it at a beach club!).
Playa Paraiso, Playa Pescadores, Playa Santa Fe: Public free beaches half-way up the road on the way to Tulum Ruins (opposite direction of the Hotel Zone). Paradise Beach or Playa Paraiso (appropriately named), offers the iconic lounge and relax imagery you would imagine from taking a beach vacation in Mexico.
Beach Clubs: The beaches along the hotel zone are privatized by the resorts. You can, however, get access to their beach club for a fee (usually between $20-50 USD pp but up to $100 for some). The best beach clubs that I can recommend are Ahau, Habitas, and Papaya Playa Project.
Public beaches on the Hotel Zone: The first “stretch of the Hotel Zone” has a dozen shops and restaurants. Just beyond this, though, is a section of public beach. This area is often empty during the day and later semi-crowded with locals and their families or fisherman casting their lines out. It’s got a short shore and isn’t the best spot because the road is so nearby. But if you walk out, there’s a rocky area that is pretty neat to take photos of while getting a good view of the coastline.
Many people don’t know, but there are whispers that Azulik’s beach is a nude beach. We often go to the mini public beach just after Azulik, which is kind of hidden from view. It is just across Tunich.
6. Float Down Mayan Canals in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Cost to enter Muyil ruins: ~$50 pesos
Cost to take boat tour: $1,000 pesos per person
One of the coolest things to do in Tulum is to float down on an old Mayan trading route in a lagoon in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere offers a unique experience to enjoy while in Tulum: You float down an old Mayan trade route in your life jacket strapped on like a diaper. Literally!
When you first enter Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve at Muyil (20 minutes south of Tulum), you’ll hike through the mosquito-infested jungle to ancient Mayan ruins. But keep going, over a boardwalk to a scenic viewing tower (that you can climb if you’re not scared of heights, or even if you are..), and once beyond that, you’ll reach the shore of the lagoon.
Pay the boat guide the tour fee per person, which will cost around $1,000 pesos. You’ll soon be whisked away in a little motorized canoe boat across crystal clear water. You’ll stop alongside some mangroves and will be told to jump out in the water with your life jacket strapped on like shorts.
For the next 45 minutes, you’ll float down the lazy river, created by natural currents. Remember to not wear sunscreen again – so plan to wear a shirt and a hat if you burn easily. If you want peace and quiet away from the crowds, go early to Sian Ka’an while everyone else is busy visiting the ruins back in town.
If you’re not comfortable going alone, you can also book a half-day tour of Muyil and Sian Ka’an here.
7. Marvel at Laguna Kaan Luum
Cost to enter Kaan Luum: ~$100 pesos
Laguna Kaan Luum is one of those bucket list things to do in Tulum I haven’t been able to check off yet. But despite this, the lagoon constantly gets raved about for its gorgeous colors. The lagoon has a deep 82 m (260 ft) cenote at its center. When you zoom out, it looks like an eye. You can swim in the lagoon around this hole which is closed off by ropes. There is also a pier, some swings, and several rest areas.
How to get there: You can get to Laguna Kaan Luum by public transport (colectivo – minivan) from Carrillo Puerto in Tulum. The colectivo should cost around $85-120 pesos. If you have a rental car, you can also drive there and enter the location in your GPS. Word on the street is that you can take a detoxifying clay mud bath if you should decide to jump in! I believe they also accept drones for a fee.
8. Sip a Mezcal or Margarita in Downtown
Cost for drinks in Tulum at night: around ~$100-$150 pesos
As I mentioned earlier, Tulum Town can be quite the hip place to be. With that being said, take advantage of its lively night scene to enjoy a margarita or mezcal cocktail. Mezcal is one of the famous spirits of Mexico, akin to tequila (but in my opinion, better!).
There are many bars/restaurants to get drinks at. Batey’s is one of the most famous places to go for drinks in Tulum, but it’s often too crowded for my taste. Pasito Tun Tun, the swing bar across the street, has a better vibe. For a low-key, authentic experience without flashy lights and expats, head across the Main Ave and have a drink at El Grifo, a down to earth mezcal and artisanal beer bar.
9. Experience the Mayan Jungle at Coba Ruins
Coba ruins entrance fee: ~$100 pesos
Everyone who visits Coba raves about how it’s one of the best things to do in Tulum. And I’d have to agree, simply because it offers a very different but also an interesting perspective of Mayan ruins compared to those along the Tulum coast.
Coba ruins are also still climbable, at least the main structure is. But we heard it was going to be closed down so tourists can no longer climb up the top (similarly to Chichen Itza back in the day). The top of the ruin offers panoramic views of the jungle. You don’t see much, but the vastness of the jungle and knowing all the other hidden ruins and secrets trapped within is just fascinating itself.
Getting to Coba from Tulum is fairly easy. Just take the Coba road north out of Tulum and after 45 minutes you’re there. I would recommend you take the opportunity to visit the nearby Cobe cenotes while you’re there since these are underground cave cenotes that offer a different perspective than many of the open-air ones closer to Tulum.
Tip: Rent a bike at the entrance of Coba to see the Coba ruins faster. Otherwise, it can be a far walk! Bike rentals cost around $75 per person.
Last Tips for Traveling in Tulum, Mexico
Travel Responsibly: Tulum has exploded in popularity and it’s clear that it’s drastically harming the local community and environment. Please stay in responsible hotels, respect the local culture, and dispose of your trash properly. Please reduce your plastic waste as well.
Say No to Raves & Drugs: So-called Tuluminatis, self-proclaimed “woke” yogis, influencers, and rich hippies, are changing the very cultural thread of Tulum. Also, many tourists are buying drugs and thus are encouraging youth to sell drugs on the streets (just take a walk down Calle Centauro and you’ll get asked if you want cocaine by a 16-yr old). Please don’t come to Tulum to get high or attend illegal jungle parties as this is encouraging a new wave of tourism that is disastrous for the future of Tulum.
Support Local: When you can, please consider buying and shopping from local markets, families, businesses, and shops. Many local families are struggling to make ends meet.
ALSO READ: 12 Epic Day Trips From Tulum You Can’t Miss
There are many amazing things to do in Tulum that involve the outdoors and wellness. I personally love learning about the indigenous Mayan culture, exploring the ruins, and diving into magical cenotes around Tulum! Feel free to drop your questions about Tulum in the comments below or reach out to me by email.